"Without a little anti-Semitism, what good is it to be a Jew?" Bruce Jay Friedman's often uproariously funny play ponders this and other questions close to the hearts of assimilated American Jews. Friedman's play seizes almost viciously on every stereotype of Jews and Gentiles alike, but director Robert Liebowitz and his lively cast for the most part succeeded in bringing humanity to these familiar characters.
Jack, a former sceenwriter, has abandoned the stress of the city for what he believes will be a quieter life for himself and his family in upstate New York. He writes a column for the local paper and enjoys the bucolic charm of the Adirondacks, although lately he has had some disturbing doubts about his new life. Happily married for almost two decades to Flannery, a gorgeous blonde shiksa goddess, and the father of the adorable but bratty Chrissie, Jack begins to feel alienated in his new environment.
Convinced that the citizens of his small community are causing the few Jews in the area to disappear Nazi-style, his paranoia reaches a crescendo one Sunday morning, while listening to the radio. As he switches stations trying to find something suitable, he is bombarded with church music and a variety of Christian diatribes calculated to make even the most assimilated of us a touch uneasy. His jitters are intensified when he is visited by his former colleague Danny, an Afro toupee-sporting fellow Jew. Jack badgers Danny about every business decision he has been making lately, almost accusing him of anti-Semitism. Danny retaliates and a hysterical Borscht Belt style repartee ensues.
Throughout the play a snooty tennis-playing country-club type (Talene Alexander), a beer-swilling redneck who obsesses over the Jewish monopoly on the media (Sid Hammond), an unhappy German-American (Lawrence Levy), a Hasidic rabbi (Ted Montuori), a goose-stepping Metro North conductor (John Squire), a German cabaret singer (Lori Eure), and other unpleasant anti-Semitic characters pop in and out. Jack's tortured emotional journey ends on an imagined trip on the Metro North, which metamorphoses into a Nazi train transporting Jews to concentration camps. Just when Jack comes to grips with his paranoia, his worst dreams are realized when Chrissie is abducted.
Leslie Shenkel's Jack was a lovable neurotic, whose core of decency endeared him to the sophisticated audience. Jerry Lewkowitz fleshed out the broadly written character of Danny, which could have easily fallen into stereotype in the hands of a lesser actor. Diane Bradley did her best with the ungrateful role of the Martha Stewart-esque Flannery. Jill Gureasko contributed a wickedly funny, yet vulnerable performance as Mrs. Goldman, a fellow passenger on the nightmare train to hell. Christine LaPlume was a lively Chrissie. Susan Rose Cuomo was sensual and seductive as the martini-quaffing insurance agent, Margaret.
The uncredited set was simple and cozy. Diana Chaiken's
costumes were appropriate for the characters. The sound cues by
Michael Fortunato were very effective in creating the desired
conflict. Bob Balogh's lighting was low-key and flattering.
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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern